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Monday, February 16, 2009

Senate Committee short hearing for FOI Bill.

The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee took just over an hour last Thursday for the hearing on the Freedom of Information (Removal of Conclusive Certificates and Other Measures) Bill 2008. Nothing much new or startling in the transcript of testimony as Michael McKinnon, Rick Snell, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and the Australian Press Council spoke to their submissions.The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) provided some comments about the approach taken in the Bill.The latter when asked, weren't able to add anything to the "as soon as possible" and "this year" commitments to cabinet consideration of second stage reform issues such as the establishment of an information or FOI commissioner.

Senator Moore raised a good question [transcript below at 14] with PM&C witnesses about whether, given all the talk, there is anything in the Government's own FOI training programs that goes to the issue of culture change.PM&C ducked- training is not their baby despite the transfer of FOI responsibilities from Attorney General's in December 2007. Courses are conducted by the Australian Government Solicitor's Office. A senior officer volunteered that "we think it likely" the information commissioner will be putting out the culture change message. That should be a relief, probably to have some effect in 2010 or later!!!

PM&C also wasn't able to help with information on whether records have been kept about the level and extent of training across all government agencies, but intends to find out.

The transcript of the hearing is here-Senate Committee-12/02/2009.

Just on the training front any course for public servants that promises excellence in decision making has to sound like a good thing. That's what the Australian Government Solicitor's Office and the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney are offering in " Excellence in Decision Making", a five day administrative law program in Canberra, 30 March- 2 April 2009, for "all those who work in government" particularly decision-makers and those with any involvement in decision-making processes, administrative law practitioners, new agency staff, policy officers and lawyers. Sessions will cover the gambit including Freedom of Information, privacy law and other important topics.

The brochure provides the details- the fee,$3450, being the most important. You would like to think any new policy settings on the interpretation and application of the Act, if there are any, would be up there in lights even in a heavily lawyer-oriented program such as this, but it's perhaps telling there is no sign of Minister Faulkner or anyone from the policy department, PM&C, on the speakers list.But the audience may get a bit more than the Senate Committee did on thinking about the information or FOI commissioner when the position is established.One of the speakers is the long-time former Acting WA Information Commissioner Darryl Wookey now Senior Executive Lawyer, AGS Canberra, speaking on models for FOI review.

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